Sunday, November 7, 2010

Musical (Comfort) Chairs

Helping out in the classroom the other day, I was surprised to hear the students clamoring to go to music class. Previously, the kids had always grumbled about music class, their complaints mainly revolving around the “babyish” songs that they had to sing, like “I’m a Little Teapot” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Admittedly, I had kind of felt their pain; by the third grade, nobody wants to be linked to music that is associated with the preschool set.

The students’ change of heart was apparently ushered in along with a new music teacher. Their former teacher decided to retire a few weeks into the new school year, and her replacement – another seasoned teacher – has approached her music classes in a completely different way. She’s updated many of the songs that they sing, and also sprinkles her lessons with interesting musical theory and music history tidbits that are much more palatable to the kids this time around. She brings into class odd assortments of items on which to drum (with students counting beats), and other props such as balls and instruments from around the world.

To my mind, both music teachers were, and are, good teachers. In this age of instant gratification, with students reared on video games, cell phones, and on-demand this and that, it’s an increasing challenge for teachers to capture and hold students’ attention sufficiently during instruction. The former music teacher taught the way she’d been teaching for years, and probably the way she was trained to teach. Her methods were solid for many students over the years, some of whom continue to excel at music in college and beyond. Her replacement, who is about the same age, has decided to periodically push herself out of her comfort zone and modifies her instructional style to keep her methods fresh. Her effect has been immediate, not just in resurrecting the students’ interest in music, but also in their accelerated comprehension and mastery of the content.

We all know that school districts’ budgets are tight, and the importance of music education is often underestimated by some parents and financial stakeholders. Much research underscores the correlation between music and math skills: for example, students learn to count beats and figure out the length of notes by using multiplication and division. Music education also helps to develop higher thinking skills, as students think about complex musical patterns, and how their individual parts fit into a musical whole, or how they can augment various sounds, tones, and intonations to create variations on a musical piece. With art and music education always inching closer to the chopping block in many districts, it’s imperative for educators to periodically reassess their instructional methods. What works? What doesn’t? When does student attention seem to flag? What kinds of props, instructional delivery methods, and activities might be used to help convey the material in an effective, yet engaging, way? How willing are you as an educator to step out of your comfort zone?

This week my picks focus on music education resources from SoundTree, a company that produces turn-key learning systems for education that integrate music and technology. During the week, I’ll be featuring a host of additional music resources from SoundTree and other entities on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check them out.

“This Week in Music” Podcast
Subject: Music
Grade: 6-12
In this activity, students create short podcasts that highlight events such as birthdays, events, and other important dates from music history. Each podcast will be posted online for downloading. Students are required to compose a theme for their podcast episode, create a script, and may include listening examples (MIDI files, MP3 clips, etc.) to enhance their project.

Film Scoring in the Music Classroom: Duck and Cover
Subject: Music
Grade: 7-12
The students will compose music for a short segment of Duck and Cover – a movie from the 1950s on preparing for nuclear war – though the students will not know what it is about. Students will write a script and music to accompany the film clip.

Enhancing the Understanding of Singing a Round in the Early Elementary Grades
Subjects: Music
Grade: K-6
In order to sing and understand the concept of a round, the students will use the “piano roll” visual of a sequencer to “see” and practice singing their individual part as it relates to the other parts in the round.

~Joann's Picks - 11/4/2010~

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